Schools help step up Shoe Capital drive

When students in this city come to class next month, they will be wearing the same style and brand of shoes.

Several public and private high schools and colleges have agreed to source the shoes as part of the official school uniform from local shoemakers in a bid to revive the city’s dying footwear industry.

“This will help our local shoemakers find the market they have lost,” said Councilor Gat Alatiit, who also heads a loose organization of shoemakers called the Samahan ng Magsasapatos sa Biñan.

Alatiit quickly noted, however, that the schools should not require but “only encourage the students to patronize Biñan’s local products.”

Biñan, especially Barangays Dela Paz and Malaban, was once known as a footwear capital in the 1960s. The residents claim the industry was thriving long before the town of Liliw, also in Laguna, and Marikina City became popular for the same product.

“There were about 500 footwear businesses with production areas in almost 3,000 households,” Alatiit said.

Shoemaking (the term also refers to the making of open-toe sandals and ladies’ slippers) was at its peak before the influx of imported footwear from China, he said.

But globalization killed the industry, Alatiit said, and its effects are still being felt. Sometime in 2003, business owners sold their equipment and closed down the shops, and their workers returned to fishing, farming or other livelihood sources.

Alatiit said the industry was far from full recovery. In 2009, Biñan was struck by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) and the floods it spawned submerged the footwear-producing villages near the Laguna de Bay for months.

At present, only around 30 footwear manufacturers have managed to remain in business, surviving from small orders from shopping malls and shoe stores.

Rapping the schools is not all the solution but one opportunity the shoemakers could take advantage of to regain their losses, Alatiit said.

So far, he said, a number of schools had given positive feedback. Among these are St. Michael’s College, La Consolacion College, and high schools Alpha Angelicum, Jacobo Z. Gonzales Memorial National High School, and Biñan National High School, who placed bulk orders in time for the school opening.

“The shoes are a lot cheaper than the branded ones sold in the malls,” Alatiit said.

Made of leatherette (artificial leather), a pair is priced at around P250 and as an added value, the schools may request their own shoe designs.

Alatiit has guaranteed the shoes’ durability, saying “they would not wear off easily.”